Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Is the Marine Corps Gazette coming out in opposition to the Marine commandant?

Yow. That’s like the Jesuits denouncing the Pope, isn’t it? That’s the thought I had as I read the November issue of the Gazette (yes, pointedly, the birthday ish). First, the editorial in the front, signed by the magazine’s editor, retired Col. John Keenan, calls out the commandant by name for giving detailed specifics on ...

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Yow. That's like the Jesuits denouncing the Pope, isn't it?

That's the thought I had as I read the November issue of the Gazette (yes, pointedly, the birthday ish). First, the editorial in the front, signed by the magazine's editor, retired Col. John Keenan, calls out the commandant by name for giving detailed specifics on how he wants commanders and NCOs to operate. "Gen. Amos delineates numerous policies that are detailed and very prescriptive.... When the Commandant cannot rely on commander's intent and mission orders with general and commanding officers, but instead has to tell them not just the end state but the ‘how' with the detail of a kneeboard checklist, it makes one wonder."

Now, that can be read two ways, either as a slam on the leader or the led, so I wasn't sure quite where Col. Keenan was going. But then, further into the issue, I read an article by Maj. Randall Turner that criticized the commandant's emphasis on diversity in the Corps' officer corps: "The Commandant chances dissension by inadvertently but tacitly promoting a quota system."

Yow. That’s like the Jesuits denouncing the Pope, isn’t it?

That’s the thought I had as I read the November issue of the Gazette (yes, pointedly, the birthday ish). First, the editorial in the front, signed by the magazine’s editor, retired Col. John Keenan, calls out the commandant by name for giving detailed specifics on how he wants commanders and NCOs to operate. "Gen. Amos delineates numerous policies that are detailed and very prescriptive…. When the Commandant cannot rely on commander’s intent and mission orders with general and commanding officers, but instead has to tell them not just the end state but the ‘how’ with the detail of a kneeboard checklist, it makes one wonder."

Now, that can be read two ways, either as a slam on the leader or the led, so I wasn’t sure quite where Col. Keenan was going. But then, further into the issue, I read an article by Maj. Randall Turner that criticized the commandant’s emphasis on diversity in the Corps’ officer corps: "The Commandant chances dissension by inadvertently but tacitly promoting a quota system."

On the one hand, it is good to see strong, clear arguments being made. The Gazette seems to be regaining its independent, open-minded footing. On the other hand, it makes me wonder, again: What is going on in the Marine Corps? This doesn’t feel to me like the usual post-war "morning after" letdown. More like a crisis of confidence in the institution itself.

A couple of other things that struck me in this issue.

  • The birthday letter from the commandant states that, "We have always known hardship, fatigue, and pain … but we have never known what it is to lose a battle!" Really, Gen. Amos? (Now I’m doing it.) I immediately thought of the Chosin campaign in late 1950: Brilliantly fought and led, but not something one can call a victory.
  • The November issue also had the usual ration of Marines bashing American society. The Corps seems to eat up this moral junk food. For example, there is a reference to "our fellow citizens" as "more timid and protected souls," which struck me as a pretty broad brush. (On the other hand, I did like another sentence in the same article: "In our remembering, let us turn from mourning that which we cannot change to celebrating that which we have experienced.")
  • Later in the issue, but in the same America-bashing vein, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pellegrino asserts that, "Society holds tolerance as its highest value, which in turn spawns its own set of societal norms, specifically, legalism, conformity and instant gratification. These norms, if not held in check, often lead to alcoholism, drug abuse and rape, as can be seen increasing throughout society today." Yow, LTC! That’s a whole lot of assertions to make, some of them pretty sweeping — and not a single bit of supporting evidence introduced. It is, at best, a controversial assertion (I mean, tolerance causes rape?) but in no way a set of self-evident truths. The Best Defense verdict: This is just intellectually sloppy, the mental equivalent of a Marine appearing in public bleary-eyed, shaggy-haired and unshaven, with his uniform messed up and whiskey on his breath. Take it home and clean it up.

That said, if the mission of the Gazette is to make its readers think, and I suspect it is, then the bottom line on the November issue has to be: Congratulations to Col. Keenan and his team.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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